||Realizing The Dream:
American Science & Surplus Superstore, Chicago, IL!
Everyone has places they feel like they have to see before they die. For
some, it's the Statue of Liberty. Others, it's Disney World. Then there's those
people who want to go to France and London. Some people even feel connected to
Easter Island. These are important dreams for us all...the goal of getting to some
wonderful far away land keeps us going, keeps us motivated, keeps our attention to
global terrorism only semi-diluted, and most of all: keeps us happy. We have to
have something to shoot for, and not all of us want to play professional baseball or
catch the world's largest marlin. Goal vacations are our happy thought, and without
'em we'd only have new seasons of Frasier and the annual release of
Christmas Crunch to look forward to.
Just like everyone else, I too had a dream.
American Science & Surplus. This place is the worldwide leader as far as
stocking the ultimate bastards of mass merchandise. For years - more than I can
remember - I've been browsing through their delicious mail order catalog, gleefully
ordering shipments of misprinted chemistry flasks and overstocked plastic Jabba the
Hutt heads. Just about everything in their catalog screamed for the impulse buying
public to make a purchase, mainly because those of us who're ultra materialistic
felt an almost maternal wave of pity overtake us realizing that these poor, poor
items had no business being made, much less sold. We had to save them! If
the general populance of the planet couldn't find a use for insect encyclopedias and
glass drinking birds - we'd give it the ol' college try. After all, it was our
duty. We prided ourselves on a storied, lifelong history of enjoying really crappy
Science experiments, toys, crazy light bulbs, rubber rats that wax philosophical
with overstated eyebrows, punching nun puppets, various surplus army gas masks...the
place has it all. The mecca of the moronic, and I mean that in the best way
possible. This place is the real life Island of Misfit Toys - only you don't have
to deal with that idiot elephant, and none of *these* toys will try to pester you
into buying them with a song number. Hundreds upon thousands of items, ranging from
the broken to the incredulously stupid. If you've ever met a person who erroneously
poured thousands of dollars into the mass production of edible zippers, chances are
his follies are on display at AS&S...at a low, low price!
There is one small problem, though. See, their catalogs are done in a real
grassroots way - they're great to read and keep me slobbering, but there's no actual
pics of the items they're selling...just handdrawn illustrations. They're cute and
all, but it's hard to tell if you really need a rubber foot without actually
seeing the beast in action.
If you're not reading between the lines here, my dream, my magum opus, my lustful
goal: I had to go to their retail store.
Thing is, they're located in Chicago. That's a pretty long way to go for a guy
whose daily adventures usually don't extend much further than the mailbox. It's not
so much that I'm an agoraphobe, it's just that I have way too many great DVDs. Why
bother with the piddle paddle of natural sunlight and veritable face-to-face
meetings when you can successfully learn the entire script of Final
Destination and then rewrite it in your head so it makes an iota of sense?
Besides, I'm a busy man. Only half the pages in my dolphin coloring book are
finished. But I couldn't let that stop me, nor my habitual stagnation. I don't
want to be one of those people who waits till they're 80 to achieve their dreams.
It's like these couples who wait until they're both over 90 before going to Disney
World. Come on, like you're really gonna ride Space Mountain. At best, all they'll
do is cut pictures of themselves out and put it over the Space Mountain postcards to
trick their grandchildren, which by this point are already older than I am. No, I
wanted to realize my dream before Father Time sought revenge on me for the
years spent dabbling in illegal drugs.
Luckily, I realized that I had to go to Chicago on the very same weekend that pretty
much all the internet people who like making silly faces on their webcams were
heading down there. So, not only would I get to see all the toys up close, I'd get
to meet the people who other people repeatedly ask me for nude pics of -- all
in one place! I don't know which I found more enticing, but considering how growing
to love these people like some weird surrogate wolf family that raised me as a child
contrasts oddly with the fact that AS&S sells glow-in-the-dark Yeti stickers, I'll
just reserve comment. A few conversations later, the plans were finalized: AS&S
here I come!
Course, going to Chicago from NY isn't a short ride. The only way to do it right is
by plane, unless you're really really want to reenact the opening scene from
Perfect Strangers. But had I done that, I probably would've spent the
duration of the weekend talking like Balkie, and nobody would want to speak to me.
So flying was the only way to go. Unfortunately, I've never mixed well with
airports. Or Indian food.
I was hoping to get there without a hitch - the flight was from the airport over in
Newark, NJ. It was an early flight, so at least I wouldn't have to see all the
fabled Jersey trash I've heard so much about that comes out to play in the
afternoon. I would, however, have to deal with the most esoteric parking lot and
rampways ever created. It took me around 30 minutes to get to the airport. It took
another 45 to actually get in the airport. I think this is all done
purposely by the Airport Gods -- they hope you'll be so incredibly relieved to
actually get in the building that you won't give a flying fuck when your
flight is delayed three hours and you're seated next to the only guy in history who
likes eating homemade beef jerky at 30,000 feet.
The skies may be friendly, but the process to get up into 'em ain't. This article
is already looking to be the size of a novel, so I won't go into every last nuance
of Newark's fine air facility. Instead, I'll just tell you this: don't carry any
money in coin form. Don't have buttons on your pants. Don't have fillings in your
teeth. Don't write the word 'metal' on a piece of paper and hide it in your sock.
Don't think about any type of alloy whatsoever. Don't carry knives, don't carry
nails. No metal statues of monkeys or snails. If you do any of those things, some
guy who finds great delight in putting a black stick around your crotch will have
you stand like a trained dog at the metal detector for 15 minutes asking you why
you're trying to infiltrate the terminals with Russian warheads. Also, make sure
you're never holding anything embarassing on your person. I wasn't too pleased when
I had to empty my pockets at the station only to find that they were full of weird
skull & crossbones pogs. And, calling a spade a spade, neither was the monster
doing the metal check.
The rest of the trip there was smooth enough, and only noteworthy because the pilot
kept referring to turbulence as 'bumpy air' over the loudspeaker. And he must've
really enjoyed this great new pet name, because he said it no less than 36,000
times. C'est le vie, I was in Chicago.
All of the weekend's participants did the meet and greet, but you'll learn a little
more about them in just a bit. First things first: American Science & Surplus.
Kevin, who some of you may know as the guy everyone on our forum bugs when it goes
down, and others may know as the stick-figure drawing pimp from the Stileproject cam portals, played host to
this little shindig. Much to his credit, he didn't offer one complaint as we
progressively unearthed his house and made light of the fact that it's bricks were
of the hard plastic variety. I should also mention that the suburbs of the Windy
City are home to the world's largest insects. There's no locust swarms or anything
like that, but when you do run into an ant, rest assured, it will be 17,000
stories tall. Alright, I promise not to saddle this one with too many more inside
jokes, but if I do, you can chalk it up to the fact that I woke up this morning to
the sound of my computer desk collapsing, taking with it a years-long collection of
ceramic Chinese restaurant tumblers and assorted glassware. I'm too pissy to
appease anyone today.
Getting back on track, up above you'll see four of the weekend's AS&S enthusiasts,
Spida, Fem, and Steve, who along with myself and Kevin had to cram into a car that in no
way was meant to seat two people, let alone sixty five thousand. Personally, I was
positioned in such a way that I now know the fullest extend of my ankles'
durability. And they really, really hurt. Zee and Spida, on the other hand,
chopped off most of their legs to insure a safe fit. Steve, enjoying a three-day
weekend away from the toils of Troma studios, decided to entertain us by playing the
harmonica. For the rest of the entire weekend! To be sure, this was a motley crew.
The only thing most of us had in common was a shared interest the secret meaning of
emoticons. But there was something else - something wonderful - that linked all all
together. And it wasn't the webcams, the net, or even psychotic anti-social
behavior. We all wanted the mystery box.
Mystery boxes? 25 dollars of sheer value. For ten bucks. You do the math folks, this was one
serious steal. Put if this way: most everything in AS&S is priced low enough that
you won't realize you actually don't need or really want anything they sell. It's a
masterful trick. Nobody will buy light switches if they're a dollar each. But if
they're a dollar a dozen? Let's seal the deal. If the stuff they're mass
stocking is that cheap and that useless, can you imagine what's in these mystery
boxes?! Oh, we'd find out soon enough. Whatever you're guessing...you're wrong.
There's no way anyone could ever guess what's really in these things. Actually,
I've seen what's in them and I still don't know what half of the stuff was.
More on that later. Now its time for us to go....in the store... Hold on to
your hats. Or just buy one from AS&S - they sell misprinted local little league
caps for 36 cents each.
There it is! I don't think I can properly profess in words the surge of excitement
that coursed through my blood just looking at the place. Years upon years of
being a mail-order junkie, and finally, the real life equivalent is realized.
Strategically placed in between a pizza shop and a Chinese restaurant, the AS&S
superstore tackles everyone who's too full and tired to care what they're buying.
And that's pretty much a necessity - unless you can think up uses for broken plugs
and plastic goats, you've gotta have something in your system other than sense to
shell out the dough. In my case, that something was a clinical spending disorder
which dictates that I must spend every last dollar on me - whether it's 10 bucks or
a thousand, within 15 minutes of receiving it. Luckily for AS&S, this was the one
day of the year that I actually had money.
And there it was! Words cannot describe the madness that is AS&S. Any store that
devotes three aisles to selling old army canteens, a full section of old Macho Man
Randy Savage Slim Jim tins, and a window case full of human skull replicas is
obviously a cultural mecca. But there's so much more than meets the eye. Scouring
the aisles is like taking a marketing crash course, where the only statement is
'Never Do THIS', repeated 10,000 times until you finally understand what products
simply aren't meant to be made. Truly, this was the ultimate surplus store. Every
stupid product ever made was on display, from vials of slime goo to a collection of
neon colored latex gloves available to the consumer at the lowest prices anywhere.
I knew we were in for a treat when the first visible item for sale was a 12" rubber
frog that looked incredibly constipated. It was all uphill from there.
The place also sells enough lab ware and mechanical parts to build and extol a robot
army hostile takeover. It's just nuts. And they definitely fill the air with some
kind of gaseous drug other than the dust of 20-year-old dinosaur encyclopedias,
because you feel like you can justify buying pretty much everything they've got.
You'll see what I mean when we review my purchases. While old favorites like Sea
Monkeys and the incomparable glow-in-the-dark cockroach are readily available, it's
the secret sauce of the store that proves the biggest selling point: this place
sells things that they should pay you to take. Giant foam sponges in the
shape of flower heads. Hard plastic aortas. Hideously oversized fuzzy pens.
Plastic shrunken heads. Viewed seperately? Looks like crap. But when you put it
all together and see the big picture, what we have here is 80 square feet of
absolute heaven. When you're perusing a collection of lollipops that have real
grasshoppers inside and the cashier tells you they're 'really good', you know you're
in a special place. When you find out that the grasshopper pops are 4 for 3 bucks,
you know you've reached Nirvana.
Don't mind the blurry pictures. My camera thinks it's people and kept growing arms
so it could rub it's eyes in a literal display of disbelief over what I was making
it take pictures of. Fortunately, AS&S also sells at least three dozen brands of
outdated lens cleaning fluid. And if that's not your bag - pick up the
ultimate treat: a translucent cow model kit that lets you see it's internal organs
I was going to offer the above pics up in larger sized versions, but it really won't
help much, everything will still look like a big blur of plastic. But take my word
for it: it's very cool plastic. Now, let's review the first eleven of the
16,000 items I picked up. I'm not going to disclose the total amount I spent
because it's...well...completely embarassing and self-effacing, but let's just say
that for the amount I spent, I got more than my money's worth. That is, of course,
if you can see the purpose in owning six hundred rainbow chameleon stickers.
Eyeball Mouth Thing: Picture your friend's faces as you cleverly whip
out a pair of yackers complete with monster eyes on stalks and a foreboding
rubber tongue. And when you do that, try not to keep it from letting you
buy this. As far as mutant rubber mouths go, you won't find many better,
especially since this one has a quirky hole in the back that lets
you slip it over your own tongue. For 2.50 that might seem a bit
steep, but think of it this way: you'll get a lot more mileage out of
this pile of crap than, say, a big bag of potato chips. You'll finish
the chips in a day, but you'll cherish the mutant mouth forever. Also
notable: smells like sweat.
Plastic Lung: I got this at the point in the shopping experience where
I was simply blindly grabbing anything within reaching distance and throwing
it into my cart. That much is obvious, but it's still always good to have
one of these on hand. As a heavy smoker, it's nice to be able to see what
a healthy lung looks like. Actually, even though this one is made of plastic
and has the innards exposed, it'd probably do me a lot more good than
my current ones at this point. Damn vices. Amazingly, I think this was
the highest priced item on my list at 4.50. What's even more amazing?
A perfectly good plastic lung costs me less than a pack of
cigarettes. It's a weird world we live in.
Candy: I guess they figured that nobody liked The Rocketeer
enough to buy action figures based on it, so the only way to get toys
out on the shelves that actually sold was by including sweet candy. For
a quarter each, you really can't ask for more. I think that movie has
subliminal visuals in it that force everyone who saw it to completely
forget it exists, because this is the first I've seen or heard of the
thing since it came out. If you've seen the movie, you'd know that's a
good thing. Paul Sorvino would do himself justice to actually read the
scripts of the movies he signs on for. Then again, if he did that, he
may not have played Lips Manlis in Dick Tracy. And that's a pretty
Mask: Ever wanted to look like a pro-wrestler, or a comic book super
villain? Then don't buy this mask, because those people generally don't
wear masks that only fit midgets. Still, the thing was 40 cents, so how
could I possibly pass it up? Held together gently and very, very loosely
by a snipped rubber band, this mask redefines bad taste very clearly as
'ugly masks purchased from a surplus store.' The thing is so wonderfully
bad that even this store, that prominently displays rubber jellyfish,
hides it way in the back. And as all of us know, that's where all the
best steals are!
Mutant Ninja Turtle Eraser Heads: A giant bag of 'em for a quarter.
I will never use them, and will likely never open them. I will hide them
whenever anyone remotely important comes over. And I'll probably throw
them away the next time I clean. But it's TMNT, and it's cheap, so there's
just no passing it by. Whomever made these was pretty creative with the
Turtles' collective cultural pasts, as some of them have entirely different
skin colors. Fortunately, they all share the same blank stare and annoying
smile that made them a staple of kid lore in the early 90s. If the toys
were still around, you could make a great diorama by putting these heads
around a viciously posed Slash. Individually bagged too, so I'd suppose
these made for great party favors at unpopular kids' birthday parties.
Ironically, anyone giving these out would probably be even less popular
Foam Snowballs: I've marveled at these things in the catalog for years,
so paying a buck a pop was no big deal. The big blow to my heart was the
fact that they were completely dried up upon opening. So now I've got
two dried up slime balls full of bits of styrofoam. Now that I think about
it though, had they marketed it as that, I probably would've paid even
more. Oh well. In their prime, these things were the best in slime action
one could find. A little styrofoam goes a long way, apparently. The guy
running the register was nice enough to give us all free mugs, especially
when I gushed and said that I wanted to be just like him when I grow up.
Looking back, I think he just took pity on me for being the only person
dumb enough to buy dried up slime balls.
Mice: Cheap and effective. Charming and flexible. With long tails.
I've always been a sucker for a good faux mouse, and AS&S didn't disappoint
with these fellows - real enough to trick people who aren't wearing their
glasses, fake enough to walk around town holding them in your mouth without
attracting too many disgusted looks. The perfect balance...the perfect
rat. I almost immediately managed to rip off the tail on one of them,
but for their price, I'm lucky they still had heads. Interestingly, they
all share a Fu Manchu-style whisker pattern. That's reason enough to scream
In The Dark Skeletons: ...and why not? The myriad uses for glowing
bones escape me at this precise moment, but I'm sure there exists thousands.
Skeletons are a big favorite at AS&S - they're sold in at least three
dozen different ways. Skeleton puppets. Growing skeletons. Models.
You name it, they got it. I picked the G-I-T-D variety to kick-off my
latest pet project: a glow chamber. You know it's time to reevaluate your
life when hobbies come down to that, but Archie McPhee's been doing this
for years. And if it's good enough for the boys and girls up in Seattle,
who taught me the intricate delights of Tiki Gods, it's good enough for
me. I believe these were something like fifteen cents each, or some other
irrelevant price that doesn't do glowing skeletons justice.
T-Shirt: Reach new heights in the fashion department for under seven
bucks. This purchase brought my impulse buying to new heights, as I ran
from the cashier as he was about to finish checking out my stuff before
deciding that I simply hadn't spent enough money. Luckily, the shirt isn't
surplus, and by that I mean, it isn't filthy and none of the words are
spelled incorrectly. And now I can wear a shirt that shills something
other than Transfomers or Calvin Klein. To be honest, I kinda had to buy
the shirt because I erroneously believed two outfits that looked the same
would get me through three days with then-strangers successfully. But
I'm glad I found a solution at AS&S. It was to be expected, the place
sells friggin chemistry how-to books...why not shirts?
Aquarium Guide: Don't yell at me, it was only 30 cents. And filled
with tips on how to reach the immaculate saline levels necessary to keep
your Japanese clown fish fun and frisky! This book will of course ultimately
end up in the pile of books nobody's ever gonna read, which this year
cornered a new milestone by breaking 1,000 different titles. To be fair
though, I'd much rather read about why salt is necessary to some fish
than read Roseanne's autobiography, a book which I own three copies of.
No, I wasn't interested. They were for eBay selling. Obviously, no one
else was interested either. Especially when she's spread eagle on the
Frog Stickers That Say 'Bud' But Aren't Made By Budweiser: I bought
enough stickers at this place to cover the bodies of seven people.
after a little rum and a lotta cheap wine, we put that theory to the test
later in the weekend. These frogs are freaky, but no notebook is complete
without some ridiculous decoration. I just wish I had these in high school.
Then I wouldn't have gotten made fun of as much for covering mine with
Hole lyrics and pictures of moons. These frogs are titled the 'Grin Twins',
not to be confused with failed WWF tag team, the Grimm Twins. The
sheet also proclaims them as having a 'long life' and being extremely
resistant to weather conditions, so if you ever wanted to make your outdated
and broken down car be even less socially acceptable, slap a few of these
Taking a break from the insanity for a few minutes, there's something really special
about Chicago that I feel compelled to address. There's a lot of great reasons to
visit Chi-town. You can see the Cubs, the Sears Tower, or even a militia store than
somehow sells Beanie Babies. As far as big cities go, they've pretty much got
everything one could ask for. But there's something out there that no travel
brochure mentions. Something few have experienced first-hand outside of Illinois.
Something that'll shake the very foundation of your thoughts on society. Something
really, really high in caffiene.
Yes, Chicago's best kept secret is that they're the only place on the planet (maybe
not, but according to me) that sells a new and entirely different form of
Coca Cola. If you've read the travel guide to Maine, you know that I can't seem to
leave the state without crossing some new plateau in the soda department. Last
time, we found out that Maine was completely and totally owned by Pepsi Cola. This
time, the news is much better: there's more Coke on the market than previously
So what's it taste like? Looks like Coke's trying to corner the market by selling
another soda that tastes exactly like their competition's. Yes, Coke II is
essentially Pepsi in a different can. A prettier can. I asked Kevin to tell me
everything he knew about this fiasco, and while he couldn't commit any special Coke
II commercials to memory, he did admit that Chicago had been keeping this thing a
secret for years. So no, it's not just being test marketed. It's really out there
- and it looks like it's there to stay. But why them? Why can't the rest of us
enjoy a carbonated sequel? My theory is obvious enough. We've seen what happens to
a state when they let Pepsi run rampant. The freakin soda takes the whole shibang
over, forces libraries to advertise it, and even goes as far as using scare tactics
of physical harm to keep the locals from even mentioning Coke. You've got to
look at this as a large scale game of Risk. Pepsi obviously put a lot of their
triple yellow pieces over in Maine. Coke doesn't stand a chance there - even the
luckiest series of dice rolls would ultimately prove unsucessful. They're best bet
is to tackle a new region, in this case Chicago. Pepsi may have a shot at victory
against one Coca Cola...but certainly not two. So until Pepsi brings back it's
Crystal form, don't expect to wear their colors over in Illinois without the
thousands of Coke enthusiasts kicking the shit out of you. Personally, I'm with
Now, back to the AS&S shit. There's tons.
||Really Hard Plastic Turtle: 49 cents, 49 years old, 49
different inappropriate color schemes available. This appears to have been
modeled after the infamous box turtle, but it's not easy to pay much attention
to the details when they've colored it in such blazing fashion. It amazes me
that they went through all this incredible detailing to make the turtle doll
look as lifelike as possible, and then they go fuck everything up by molding
it in bright yellow plastic. Then again, it makes sense for yellow turtles to
be sold at a surplus store. Green ones probably get sold out easily. Yellow
ones leave room for big amounts of surplus. Also note the inane purple racing
stripes painted on the shell. Yellow turtles are much faster than the
||Pastel-Colored Bear Doll Heads: Individually bagged!
If the people who worked here weren't so gloriously kitschy, I'd assume buying
a trop of bear doll heads while giggling would inspire some weird looks. The
heads are utterly pointless to own, but they've got something great going for
them. Seems like they were bagged immediately after production, because the
plastic stench in the neckhole is unbelievably intense. But don't worry about
that, because it smells *exactly* like old Star Wars figures. I was huffing
this thing for a half hour, much like a broke drug addict with a can of spray
paint. They also make for truly wonderful finger puppets. Like the turtle
above, these bears also come in every color except the ones bears are actually
found in. To compensate, they've added bright pink freckles and a smile that
would melt an iceberg.
||Leap Frog Origami: The Book: Yes, a book on how to
make frog origami. They actually had these. I actually bought these.
I've had this private obsession with origami ever since I learned how to
properly pronounce it, and I've always wanted to learn the trade. What better
way to get motivated than to have, at your very hands, the tools to create a
3-D paper frog? Origami must be a shitty hobby to have...what do these people
do with their works when finished? I've never seen anyone put origami
exhibits on display, nor is it even remotely acceptable enough to talk about
in even the slightest public forum. These make Sly Stallone's special talent
in Demolition Man seem a lot more important. The pages are blinding
with bright colors and step-by-step instructions on how to do the deed. For a
quarter, it's either this or a pack of Big Red. I already had
||Vial of Blue Slime with Secret Present: When I saw
this chemist's vial of blue slime, I had to have it. For a buck seventy-five
though, it seemed a little steep. Until I realized that there was a
plastic bug hidden deep without the vertigoo, which as everyone knows jacks up
slime's value by at least a buck fifty. With that train of thought, I got the
vial of slime for just a quarter, and you can't beat that. I'm not sure who
the marketing genius behind this one is, but let's face it, they're pretty
astute. There's only so much a person can do with a vial of slime. Adding
the bug opens Pandora's box and presents a whole new realm of possibilities.
When I figure out what those possibilities are, I'll get back to you. I just
bought it because the blue slime looked neat.
||Attractive Debutantes & Kangaroo Figures: A match made
in heaven. Think of all the fun you'll have pretending that these two women
have conversations sharing horror stories about public backlash over them
being the only two women out there married to yellow kangaroos. I envision
the two couples as great friends by matter of necessity. The kangaroos are
buddy/buddy just because they like competition in their sack races, while the
two women keep their rapport firmly establish because the rest of the human
race outcasted them. I think these figures were 30-40 cents a piece, a small
price to pay for such incredible animal animism. The only real question left
is whether these are really tall women or really short kangaroos. Then again,
true love isn't subject to the same height standards the rest of us fakers
are. As a special bonus, the girls all look like a young Nancy Marchand.
Conversely, the kangaroos all look like she did a year ago.
||Bag O' Astronauts: Astronaut figures are always a good
time, especially the kind who are inexplicably holding rifles and/or using
canes to stand upright. That aside, this is pretty standard fare, a big bag
of plastic space men and a few American flags to ensure patriotism. Made in
China. Go figure. Whatever company made these things must've been in a bad
mood, because for no good reason they've added this circular lump of plastic
on the bottom of all the figure bases that make them virtually impossible to
stand upright. And that, dear friends, is why they are to be found only in
the forgotten bottom-shelf boxes of surplus stores.
||Rainbow Chameleon Stickers: Catch him if you can! I
nearly busted a kidney when I saw these, as they're the exact same stickers I
got in my first AS&S mystery box 12 years ago. They're forty cents a sheet.
Actually, it seems like everything in the store is 40 cents, so I'll only tell
you the prices if they're different from this point on. There's definitely
something magnetic about these babies, as everyone who saw them couldn't stop
themselves from putting them all over their arms and foreheads before moving
on to putting them all over everyone else's arms and foreheads. Lizard
stickers bring people closer together. In keeping with most of the stuff I
bought's tradition of not making any sense whatsoever, star stickers are
included on each sheet as an afterthought. AS&S rules.
||Aquarium Decorations: I bought the book, now I'm one
step closer to a waterworld of passion right in the middle of my living room.
Actually, I only bought these because they came with a little green mermaid
statue. Every fishtank I've ever owned has met a grim fate, ranging from
sporadic feeding times to pool balls flying off the table and directly through
the center of the tank. If word gets out, the fish'll hate me. The best part
is that these things come in little unassorted sets that are bagged in such a
way that you can't possibly tell what's in them till you open 'em up.
Surprise Aquarium Packs! I think they're on to something.
||Scary Triops Kit: Remember those Sea Monkeys? Well,
these things improve on the formula. Ancient TRIOPS brought back to life!
Many, many times larger than those brine shrimp, and a whole lot scarier
looking. This will be the second set I've purchased. In haste I converted
the first tank into a makeshift ashtray. Don't tell me I'm cruel to animals,
it was either put the cigarette in the tank or let it burn my hand. I'm all
for Triops rights, but not at my own personal risk. Luckily for all parties
involved, I gave this to Fem as a gift to compensate for pouring more liquid
butter in our mouth than we had previously agreed upon. Sorry Fem. The set
was six bucks, which is actually less than some of the larger Sea Monkey sets
out there, so pick it up! Available at AS&S or at your local weird science
store that sells mass amounts of amethyst shards.
||Little Fish Tank of Horrors: The circle is now
complete. I've got the book. I've got the decorations. Now I've got the
tank. Sadly, it's too small to do a saltwater tank, but if I'm lucky someone
will drop one of these Japanese fighting fish at my doorstep tonight.
Coincidentally, what's up with those fish? Are they really that vicious, or
is that just pet store propaganda brought up so you won't feel bad dooming a
poor fish to a three-week life span of solitary confinement? I guess there's
only one way to find out. I just hope I get a fish who committed some serious
crimes, because as stated, any fish put in my direct care isn't about to learn
how to talk just so it can scream about how lucky it is. For 1.50 though, I
really had no choice but to buy it.
||Glow-In-The-Dark Bigfoot Stickers: At one point, these
were given away as prizes in cereal boxes. Today, they're sold for 10 cents a
piece inside AS&S. It's been a tremendously long road for these glowing Yeti
stickers, and incidentally, that's a long road you can clearly illustrate, as
it also comes with glowing Bigfoot tracks stickers! The greatest part?
Suckers come with directions, as if there's someone out there who
can't figure out how to use stickers. No assembly required. Quite possibly
my favorite find out of all the crap I bought. Noteworthy: the track stickers
obviously don't belong to the same Bigfoot you get in the pack. If they did,
it'd mean that his feet are roughly the size of his torso. And considering
what else I found in this place, they just might be.
Now it's time to take a look an an extra special item picked from AS&S's
shelves. It's a food. Sorta. It's marketed as a food, but few would recognize this
as anything edible, spiting the labels that clearly say you can eat it. Alright,
let's can the vague descriptions...I'm talking about worms. As if you needed
any more proof that everything that's ever existed is sold in this place, I proudly
present to you a brainchild of a very, very sadistic person: LARVETS.
Yup. Real worms, made to taste like Cheese Doodles and other varieties of junk
food. Why? Because the world is full of really stupid people, and of those stupid
people, there may be around 3% willing to try eating dried out worm larvae covered
in imitation cheese dust. We just might be in that 3%. Wait a second, I just
realized something. I'm desensitized. You're not. They're fucking worms, guys!
WORMS! Worms aren't food. They may be high in protein, but they're still
disgusting. I don't understand why anyone would eat them when you consider than
these are the things we find in meat that makes us demand immediate refunds. Why
would anyone buy it then, you ask? Simple. These are cheese flavored. You
can put cheese flavor on tires and people'll eat it. It's that damn good. Getting
back on track - they're WORMS!
Wassssssssup! Zee, Steve, Meenk and I curiously examined the Larvets. We
weren't really intending to eat them, because after all, they're worms. But
something kinda...struck a chord. I'm not sure what it was, but they somehow
managed to make these things seem palatable. I think Steve was just taken in with
the clever flavor titles. They wouldn't just call it 'cheese flavored'. They'd
call it something like 'Ultra Cheese Mania Flavor Party'. Basically, eating the
worms was a small setback...a price you had to pay to taste this hot cheese
flavoring. Personally, I was so impressed with the packaging that I felt obligated
to eat bugs. Meenk, on the other hand, was simply drunk. And covered in chameleon
stickers. Zee was the only one who seemed to actually like the idea of eating
worms. She's hardcore. A few others at the suare voiced some concern over what we
were contemplating doing, but it was too late. We were sold on the idea. We needed
worm action. Had they been gummi worms, our story would end here. But these
weren't candy, they were real worms. WORMS!
And there you have it. We ate the Larvets. We ate worms. They're really
disgusting looking - all creepy with legs and eyes and everything. It's not like
those ones that are soaked in tequila. With those things, by the time you're up to
eating 'em, you're so trashed that it wouldn't matter if the worm was even still
alive, or made entirely of silicon poison. We may have been drunk, but we knew what
we were doing. We were eating gastropods. And how'd they taste? Like really stale
pieces of Cheese Doodles, mixed with an entirely unpleasant aftertaste of...you
Kudos to the playa hatas for mustering up enough courage to down a bag of worms. I
could only do one before realizing how wrong the whole situation was. Meenk and
Steve didn't necessarily like 'em, but said they were a hell of a lot better than
generic brand junk food. I tried being contrary by taking the 'but they're worms!'
stance...nothing gave. Oh well, to each his own, let's review the final trimester
of the AS&S goods...
||Golden Guides: I was absolutely obsessed with these
things as a kid. And now, over a decade later, I find them again, only even
cheaper than they were back then. Golden Guides were mini-encyclopedias
geared for the nerd in all of us. I used to spend most of my time reading
about gemstones and dreaming of someday unearthing ungodly amounts of
sedimentary rock to get to a haven of quartz crystal. Sadly, they didn't have
that book, so I settled for two others: the guide to fossils, and the guide
to....TROPICAL FISH. I swear, when I finally put that little tank together,
I'll be a sea life god. I'll be Neptune. King Neptune. Only I'll wear a
shirt, since I'm Italian and I'm sick of having to shave everywhere all the
time. If you're an enthusiast of this kinda stuff, I really suggest picking
the books up - you can't believe how much excessively useless info they cram
||Power Rangers Peelable Paint: Subtitled 'art that
looks like stained glass'. Seriously. The chances of me ever opening this
are about the same as the chances of me growing giant antennae out of my head
that can separate from my body at will and grow into triffids. Still, I had
to buy it because I didn't think anyone would believe they existed without
visual evidence. Essentially, you paint over clear sheets that have outlined
Rangers. Then you cut them out. What fun! Score another one for parents
looking for completely unfun ways to occupy their kids. This genre of toy has
gone way downhill. They really need to bring back Shrinky Dinks - at least
kids got to realize their dreams of using the oven with those. This Power
Ranger peelpaint bullshit sounds a lot more fun on paper than it actually is,
which isn't saying much at all, because even on paper, repeatedly hitting
yourself on the foot with a hammer sounds like a better time.
||Weird Floating Plane: Just for the Hell of it. Toy
planes are cool, but you always feel cheating since everyone knows it's your
arm handling the flying. Now, we can put that problem to rest - this time
around, it's a plastic base handling the flying! Huzzah! If you tap
the cockpit with your finger, it's bounce around like a plane-in-peril for a
good 90 seconds. Stage your own air disaster for just 99 cents! I have no
recollection of putting this in my cart, giving this particular plane a pretty
creepy afterthought to cap off the ominous star stripe on the wings. Not sure
what to make of it all, but at this point, the thing seems damn normal by
||Evolving Tadpole/Frog Set: Very cute, and very Darwin.
I had this once before, but I lost it as it's impossible to keep track of
plastic amphibians for any great length of time. The set includes a tadpole,
a tadpole with legs that we'll call Johnny, and a frog who looks like it's
about to throw up the entirety of it's insides. As if this wasn't cool
enough, the frog squirts water. I don't understand how this one gets passed
up on the 'hot Christmas gifts' lists every year, but it's a damn crime. Even
the packaging is great, which describes what's in it in such a way that you'll
swear they're trying to present these frogs as a jazz band. It's...THE SQUIRT
FROG, with the Evolving Tadpoles! ::applause:: A+ on these guys - and
||Ball of Index Fingers: They're incredibly phallic, but
make no mistake, these are fingers. Really soft rubber fingers, about 15 of
them, all compacted to form an almost-symmetrical ball of unseen pleasure.
Much better than those other office desk stress relievers on the market, and
you won't have to pay 15 dollars for it either. Words can't describe what the
rubber feels like...these things are almost liquid. A great conversational
piece, too. Whip these out in front of your friends and try telling me they
won't want to discuss them for a good ten minutes. Who knew balls of fingers
could be such an icebreaker? AS&S!
||Silly Red Notebooks: Grade 3 Composition notebooks.
Third graders are lucky, they get their own special marble notebooks - only
these have flexible covers, and are red! Great for jotting down your
daily thoughts, or just playing Tic-Tac-Toe. These are just one of the many
fine notebook varieties AS&S supplies - they range from the standard black to
the ridiculous dinosaur-covered, but they're all full of paper, so what's in a
cover? I had intended on writing most of this article in the red notebooks on
the plane ride home, but unfortunately I was sat next to this strange woman
who took a really disturbing interest in everything I was doing. Every time I
adjusted my seat, she'd stare at me for 5 minutes straight. Finally, I
learned to just never move my seat. It was like some odd psychology
experiment. Thank god I found salvation hiding my face in the pages of Mick
Foley's latest autobiography. Foley is Good.
||Prehistoric World Poster: Modeled by X-E site
designer, Blacksuns, this poster is your quickest way to learn the
evolutionary history of the biggest lizards in history. Folded nicely and
just 20 cents! I can't seem to bring myself to tack this one up on the wall,
but it'll make a great tablecover the next time I'm painting. Which will be
soon, since I bought a model tarantula set there too. I told you, the place
has everything. Oddly enough, amongst the many dinosaurs found on the poster,
there seems to be one killer whale roaming the lake. I don't know how to
explain that, but it tells the tale on how the poster ended up there. Also,
note the final stage of evolution: human monkeys! This is the only print I've
seen that's managed to mix every stage of life on this planet in one seamless
display. The jury's still out on whether or not that's a good
||Patriotic 3-D Glasses: Modeled by the lovely Meenk,
these things may look dumb, but they're a great way to enhance the effects of
alcohol. They add weird colorful lights to everything you look at. Not
exactly a 3-D effect, but for 99 cents, it's all good. I'd also like to take
this time to mention that I've been working on this article for 17 hours now,
15 of which was spent wearing that exact pair of 3-D glasses. I keep entering
this mental limbo with 'em on. If that's your bag, pick these up, it's a hell
of a lot safer than the other methods available to induce hallucinations.
They're also great because now we can all watch Jaws III the way we were
supposed to. With stupid, cardboard glasses on.
||Amazing Bat on a Pole Thing: Plastic bats have been a
Halloween staple for years, but it's only recently that they've been improved
on: now you can make your toy bats move, with the help of a grossly
overstated and also-plastic grey axle system that lets the bat fly up almost 9
inches! Glory be! It's also interesting that this isn't really a bad - it
looks more like a mouse super-enhanced with metal wings. Now it's even
cooler than before - bats on a stick is one thing, but cyborg mice on a
stick? Incredible. I think Steve ended up taking this baby home to Troma
Studios. If we're lucky, it'll soon be up on their webcam with a penis
Photoshop'd into it's mouth. if not, there's a good chance you'll land one of
these from their mail order catalog. If you don't, there's no reason to be
disappointed: it's a very crappy, stupid item that nobody should ever lay out
money for. Much like everything else I spent my entire live savings on this
||Dangling Spider Monkey: Rubber monkeys! Rubber
spider monkeys! Rubber spider monkeys on a cord! Hang it from
your rearview, wear it as a bracelet...no matter what you do with it, there's
nothing on the planet quite like a 6" soft rubber spider monkey who bears a
striking resemblance to DEATH itself. Check out that cold stare. Don't let
that fool you, this monkey is almost overly gregarious, bringing cheer to
anyone who touches it and most who don't. My only regret is that I didn't buy
the other colors they had available - again, ranging from normal monkey colors
to others that no monkey would be caught dead in. I think these were two
bucks, which is steep by AS&S standards but cheap everywhere else. Now you
can be Ross from Friends with your very own virtual Marcel! I'm also
real appreciative that they posed this monkey in attack-mode. True to life.
No genitals though. Not true to life, but much more PG.
||Giant Fat Albert Lightbulb: This light bulb didn't
need to be giant, didn't need to cast a weird luminescent glow on the room,
didn't even need to work to get me to spend five bucks on it. All it
had to do was be named after Fat Albert. Checkmate. Those Canadians really
know how to make their illumination stable, as I must've dropped this thing 13
times and it still works. Hey Hey Hey, this light bulb can turn a
freaking football stadium into the set of Solid Gold. That wraps up
most of my AS&S finds - there's some others, but they're truly too
indescribable for me to even entertain the thought of writing about them. But
wait, there's more! One last thing...one last special thing. And it ain't
Mystery boxes. The store sells 'em for 10 bucks each - they promise a 25 dollar
value, but that's pretty much all they promise. Buying these is taking a calculated
risk: you might end up with gold dirt cheap, or you might end up with complete crap.
Still, even if you do get crap, it's still dirt cheap crap, and that's where
salvation is found. Up above, Spida, Steve, and Zee prepare themselves for the
Each box is meticulously packaged and wrapped up in the store catalog paper just to
make sure that the whole ordeal keeps it's roots squarely in the surplus realm.
They're damn heavy, too. They're so brim-packed that it's impossible to even get
the slightest idea what's in 'em from the old shake-shake Christmas present trick.
If you wanna know, you've gotta buy. At this point, we were all willing to take the
chance. After all, we'd already purchased edible worms, dinosaur posters, and bear
doll heads...how much worse could this possibly be?
For Kevin and Fem, it could be a lot worse. But don't blame AS&S! They're
infallible! Like Phoebe Cates level infallible. See, they offer two
different kinds of mystery boxes. Ready-to wares, and boxes of useless
electronic parts. The boxes are identified by their stock numbers, something our
two young friends completely overlooked in their shark frenzy spending spree.
What'd they end up with? An incredible amount of giant plugs, weird boxes that make
fire truck noises, and more types of electrical wire than you can shake a stick at.
If you're planning to build a bomb or a spaceship, this box may come in handy. For
Kev and Fem, it was an utter disappointment.
I've gotta admit though, I was a little jealous when neither of my mystery
boxes came with a power box heavy enough to kill a manatee. Then again, my mystery
box came with a freakin murder knife. I'm not kidding. Deep within the box was a
huge knife with sawblades. Luckily, it was covered with cardboard to ensure safe
handling, but still...a knife? If I also didn't include 20 camera bags and 400
wooden brachiosaur statuettes, I might've felt a little let down.
The gang shows off their wares, and let me tell you, 'myopic' doesn't begin to
describe what was on this kitchen floor that evening. It was like Christmas morning
for people who live in landfills, or in Newark. I honestly couldn't list everything
we got even if I had it all out in front of me...that's partly because there was so
much but mostly because there were at least 40 things we deemed completely
unidentifiable. A short list: Chinese fans, football videos, photo frames, fuzzy
pens, license plate holders, big weird Legos, markers, a fucking knife, 2,000 sticks
of wood, pieces of glue, heart-shaped boxes, photo albums, Jackie Martling, plastic
snakes, rubber snakes, metal snakes, real snakes, tar, fake money, clothespins,
paint, rubber gloves, LSD, mirrors, velcro strips, dead squirrels, geodes, snap
bracelets, every Patricia Arquette movie on VHS, Melatonin, nail polish remover, and
an assortment of worry dolls.
All in all, a pretty good haul.
AS&S was a milestone for me. Some people graduate college, I go to surplus stores.
You've gotta find your own calling. The point of this whole thing is...everyone's
got a dream. Mine just happened to be buying Bigfoot stickers from a retail outlet.
This weekend, I realized my dream. If I can do it, so can you. Even if you want
to be the first person to fuck an elephant while singing Paula Abdul songs. Your fate is
in your hands - so like those mugs say, Carpe Diem - go realize your dreams. Just
don't shoot for anything remotely high, or you'll try to kill yourself just like
And a big thanks to all my new buds who didn't complain when I threw on the Pokemon
video - they're all really great people, and good in bed. Feel free to check out
their sites, they're linked on the right side of this page. Now if you'll excuse
me, I have 1,300 plastic flies to find purposes for.
American Science & Surplus is located at: 5316 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL. (773-763-0313) You can visit their website to place orders online by going to Sciplus.Com.